“Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 14:10-11 (NLT)
Oh, Jesus! He’s always shaking things up with only a sentence or two. People are people regardless of the era or cultural constraints. Jesus notices the jockeying for position that is taking place to get the “good seats” at dinner. Jesus didn’t let this opportunity pass, He made the most of it.
He points out the need everyone has—the need to feel important—the need to be noticed.
Did you just hear the little voice in your head say, “Not me, I’m not like that. I’d be Ok if I was never noticed.”? I have news for you; if you heard that voice, you do have that need. I hear it. I would venture a guess that nearly everyone hears it.
If you’re not sure you heard it, recall the last time your contribution to your family was down-played. Think about the time a co-worker got the credit YOU deserved. Think about your reaction to someone who cut you off at the intersection, or who got ahead of you in line at the store. In the face of those situations, if you remained unchanged, if you felt nothing well up inside of you needing to cry out for justice or recognition, you can stop reading and come back tomorrow.
Hmm. Perfect. Let’s go down this uncomfortable path together. I’m right here with you.
Jesus wasn’t simply discussing courtesy or social norms. He was confronting attitudes. Notice Jesus included everyone at the party, both the guests and the host. Social standing is very important in American culture. It may have been more rigorously defined in Jesus’ day, but don’t confuse our subtly for lack of rigor.
At an early age, children, with laser-point accuracy, size up other children in the playground hierarchy. That carries over to college, work, neighborhoods, clubs and sadly, church. Unless you are totally without self-awareness, you know where you belong, and don’t belong, in the pecking order.
Now, abolish that pecking order. Happy day!! Now, no one is better than anyone else is. The playing field is level: the hobo and the king, the doctor and the garbage man, the rich and poor, the intelligent and the illiterate.
Isn’t it great – we’re all the same!!
Does that make you feel good or uneasy? How do you know if you are good? How do you know if you are better than the next guy? What gauge do you use to know if you are good enough?
Now, do you see why Jesus was about to get in trouble with the religious folks?
This is an unsettling notion; we are all the same. It’s at the heart of grace. It strips away all of the things you rely on to make God take notice of you. It reduces each person to a pitiful, wretch that needs amazing grace.
Taking the lowest seat or the last place in line requires admitting that you are in the position of a servant. That’s a difficult position to accept if you have worked hard to make something of yourself. With an American mindset, if you’ve worked and sacrificed your whole life, it’s difficult to accept the notion that all you bring to the table is worthless. If you feel you’ve produced something, it’s a bitter pill to swallow when you realize that you are the same as the person next to you who can bring nothing.
The “Do Command” to take the last place is the extension of the command from a few days ago—to lay up treasure in heaven. The activities of helping the poor, visiting the sick and giving don’t often get the spotlight, at least here on earth. Once again, at the end of His instruction, Jesus gives the reminder, that God is keeping an account in heaven. Here on earth, it’s the believer’s task to step back, put others in front of you, be a servant, be last.
Father, it is very difficult to avoid comparing myself to others. Help me rest in the grace You have provided. Teach me to see others through your eyes of compassion. Let me act humbly toward others today in acts of love and service.
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